Currently viewing the tag: "Student Stories"

Completing the round of posts from our returning student bloggers, Mark looks back at his first year at Fletcher from his second-year vantage point.

Mark Attia 1I recall that when I arrived on campus last fall to begin the MIB program, I observed our second-year brethren interacting in the halls after returning from summer.  Like long-lost siblings reunited, not a twosome could pass each other without a hearty embrace.  Equally memorable was learning of all the impressive and often exotic ways the MIB’s had spent their summer.  But what was even more inspiring to me was the certainty with which second-years assured us that we, too, are embarking on what promised to be a spectacular year.  They were right.  Our first year has since passed in a blink, and I, for one, learned first-hand what was behind all that enthusiasm.

I last wrote in the spring on how I was developing my own area of expertise by tailoring coursework to specific academic and professional goals.  I was focused on learning about international project and infrastructure finance, and looking for an opportunity to break into the field.  Thanks exclusively to the Fletcher network, I landed a position with OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which was, without exaggeration, exactly what I was aiming for.  OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, and it offers a range of products designed to help U.S. firms invest in emerging markets.  OPIC also plays a meaningful role in advancing foreign policy goals in a way that I characterized as “fostering peace, through superior debt financing,” which is my own commentary on how militarism has been eclipsed by more subtle measures of economic statecraft and leverage.

I joined the Structured Finance division, where my team and I worked on loans for large and complex multi-party projects, including a wind farm in Pakistan, a concentrated solar power plant in Israel, and a social-impact-oriented housing finance facility in Haiti — projects that cost over one billion dollars together.  My responsibilities included credit analysis, due diligence, research on foreign regulations, economic assessments, and interpreting elaborate concession and loan agreements; all tasks that required me to draw on my training outlined in my earlier post on a daily basis.  But what arguably proved to be most invaluable was a broad and nuanced understanding of the global context in which I was operating, enabling me to offer authentic perspectives on matters with an insight that only Fletcher can provide.

The experience convinced me that, in purely commercial terms, the MIB program equipped me with precisely the right set of skills and body of knowledge to excel in an internationally focused financial career that was otherwise entirely new to me, and it was Fletcher that made the opportunity possible.  But the value Fletcher creates for us does not stop there.  In my case, I have participated in the Building Bridges Symposium to learn from the industry’s foremost thought leaders, and have been provided connections to many astonishing alumni in the field, including international banker John Greenwood (F04), prolific builder Philip Asherman (F04), and pioneer Mimi Alemayehou (F98).  These are just a fraction of the resources available to us, all part of a brilliantly executed mission to prepare future leaders for the global stage and illuminate a path forward.

Returning to campus this fall, I was greeted in the hallway by our dean, James Stavridis (F83, F84 and the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, mind you), who inquired about my summer with equal fascination as a parent.  The moment was striking, and reinforced a sentiment solidifying in my mind since I first witnessed those second-year classmates interact.  There is an unmistakable culture that resonates throughout Fletcher, a kind of kinship that binds not only students together, but also us to our faculty, to our staff, and to our alumni.  In my view, our culture is the real prize, the engine of enduring value, and an honor to be a part of.  Like my classmates before me, I know first-years will discover their untapped potential, see locked doors swing open, and become a part of the Fletcher family, as I have; and all after merely one year.

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The second new student who will be blogging throughout her two years at Fletcher has actually already been heard from, when she and Miranda wrote about technology studies at Fletcher.  I met Aditi last spring, and I made a note to contact her in the fall to see if she would blog for us.  My email request to her crossed paths with her offer to write the first post — I’m really happy to have an eager writer.  Today, Aditi introduces herself.

Aditi_Patel JPGI am a first-year MALD student, (still thinking about) concentrating in International Business Relations and Development Economics.  As you have read in a past post, my main interests are in the use of digital technology for development programs, so I also plan to weave that interest into my coursework.

Before Fletcher, I worked back home in Mumbai at a non-profit called Dasra, doing a combination of fundraising and impact assessment work.  Having been in the Boston area for my undergraduate degree at Wellesley College, I’m really excited to experience the fall again, with all its beautiful colours — but nervous about being back in the Boston winter.  (My friends have informed me that I’m not the most pleasant person to be around when it’s cold.)

In the spirit of sharing my Fletcher journey with the readers of this blog, here are some of the things about Fletcher that most surprised me when I arrived here:

  • The MALD program has a very flexible curriculum
  • Fletcher has a wonderful sense of community

Just kidding!  I know that those are facts that are repeated over and over, and that everyone applying to Fletcher has probably heard them before.  So here are a few things that really were surprises:

  • They’re not exaggerating! Everyone is REALLY NICE at Fletcher, and the prevailing culture and environment here is one that takes great pride in kindness.  A not uncommon example: I have the wrong edition of a textbook for a class, and one of my classmates helped me out (without me having to ask) by sending me photos of every single assigned problem in the book so I could make sure I had the correct homework.
  • The sunsets here are breath-taking.  I definitely did not except beautiful sunsets in Medford, Massachusetts — but the sun setting over the Fletcher Field is an incredible sight.
  • The amount of time students get with our professors outside of class, through office hours and meetings.  Even when I have reached out to professors whose classes I’m not currently in, they have been very approachable and willing to chat.
  • A) The number of events and receptions that involve (free) food and drinks, and B) the importance placed on events and receptions that involve (free) food and drinks.  These are values I appreciate deeply.

I haven’t had a day so far at Fletcher that’s been the same as any other, and so I’m constantly finding new things to be surprised by.  I look forward to sharing all these aspects of my two years here with the Admissions Blog!

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Next up among our first-year student bloggers is Alex, who introduces himself here.  He has spent eight years abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration from The College of William and Mary.

Alex SHi everyone, my name is Alex Schulte, and I look forward to contributing to the Fletcher Admissions Blog during my next two years here.  Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and why I’m so excited to be at Fletcher.

My passion is finding creative solutions to difficult problems.  Specifically, I am interested in figuring out how to bring clean energy technology to commercial scale in order to help address three of the biggest and broadest issues we face today: 1) running our economy more efficiently and productively; 2) easing geopolitical tensions that arise from securing and allocating conventional energy resources; and 3) maintaining a sustainable environment for future generations.  I believe that clean technology represents one of the 21st century’s greatest opportunities to create a more prosperous and inclusive world.

The energy sector is complex and global, and requires a very firm grasp of both international business and policy.  Before Fletcher, I was already working to develop the experience and skills necessary to operate effectively in this area, including:

  • Consulting at Monitor Deloitte for emerging-market and defense clients, which exposed me to world-class strategic planning and data analysis skills.
  • Managing the start-up of a multi-million dollar nutritional food production business in Ethiopia, which taught me the tactical side of entrepreneurship in a difficult environment.
  • Working at a Chinese nuclear energy joint venture in Beijing, which gave me experience analyzing a novel clean energy technology and its competitive situation.

I learned a lot from these experiences.  Most importantly, I discovered that I still have a lot to learn.  This is why I am excited to be starting at The Fletcher School’s Master of International Business (MIB) program, focusing on finance and energy.

On the finance side, I recognized my need for further education in financial matters when I was confronted with the challenge of securing a $5 million loan for my business in Ethiopia.  Since starting at Fletcher, I have already learned concepts in my Corporate Finance class that are directly applicable to this experience.  Furthermore, I look forward to learning even more from the International Financial Management and International Business Transactions classes I will take next semester.

On the energy side, I realized that a more structured and comprehensive understanding of the energy landscape would have been useful when I was conducting market analyses for the Chinese nuclear energy firm.  The insights I have gained from my Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy class are invaluable, and I look forward to taking International Energy Policy next semester.  Already, the MIB program has provided me with the broader contextual intelligence that I need, and the intellectual rigor that I crave, to be successful in a sector as complex as energy.

Possibly even more important than the content of my education are the relationships I am forming.  At Fletcher, I am surrounded by a community of peers and professors who are also interested in the intersection of business and international affairs, and crosscutting solutions to solving global problems.  I am honored and excited to have joined the Fletcher community, and to attend one of the foremost international affairs schools in the world.  I look forward to taking you with me on my journey through the MIB program.

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Today I’d like to introduce the first of our first-year Student Stories bloggers.  Ali is in the MIB program, but her path to Fletcher was not the typical one:  she is one of the very first students who have enrolled after applying via the Map Your Future pathway to admission. 

Ali (in purple) at the center of an MIB student picnic.

Ali (in purple) at the center of an MIB student picnic.

Three years ago, I heard about The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy for the first time.  I was an undergraduate political science major, interning with the U.S. Department of State — an institution loaded with Fletcher alumni — and applying to graduate school seemed like a good next step.  I was disheartened when the Admissions Committee told me that I was a good candidate, but that I needed more professional experience.  I excitedly, but begrudgingly, accepted a place in the school’s first group of students admitted through Map Your Future — a program designed for Fletcher-destined undergraduates who just need a bit more “something,” i.e. professional experience, international travel, language proficiency, etc. — and scheduled myself to begin in August 2014.

Halfway through my first semester at Fletcher now, I can’t imagine not having those two years of work experience at Fulbright Belgium, and life, under my belt.  My classes this semester are Managerial Economics, Corporate Finance, Accounting, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Corporate Management of Environmental Issues — topics I would have never chosen before I managed a program budget and realized the difference that the private sector can make in public and non-profit initiatives.  My friends include classmates who are two to six years older than me and are well-traveled veterans of big name organizations such as Target, Boren Fellowships, and Procter & Gamble.  I try to think about what I could have added to conversations with these people two years ago, and it makes me happy the Admissions Committee forced me to wait.

During the next two years, I’ll be taking a mix of business, policy, and social-impact driven courses to learn the hard skills that will hopefully land me a job in a consulting firm or private company, where I can promote sustainability and social impact from the inside out, and bring people from business, government, and non-profits to the same table.  This happens every day during lunchtime at Fletcher, so hopefully the goal isn’t too big of a stretch.

I got to practice these convening and networking skills at a recent exciting event — a Net Impact conference in Minneapolis, MN, where I met executives from top companies like Southwest Airlines, Brown-Forman, and Starbucks, who already consider their companies’ social impact.  I’ve read cases about their companies’ business decisions in many of my classes already, and it was exciting to discuss the situations with them in person.

Career transitions between sectors are a common story at Fletcher, and I hope that Map Your Future students like me will soon be, too.  I hope you enjoy reading my journey with these experiences over the next two years.  Maybe I’ll meet some of you during your admissions interviews soon!

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Liam, 2014-2Student blogger, Liam, is a current member of the military.  For his first blog of his second year in the MALD program, he describes Fletcher life for veterans and active duty officers — the perfect topic for today’s Veterans Day holiday.

Veterans at Fletcher, while always a portion of the student body (Dean Stavridis, after all, is both a Fletcher MALD/PhD and a retired Navy admiral), are a small community within the school that has nonetheless grown steadily in recent years.  While the incoming class of 2013 was relatively light on active duty officers, it included many veterans, some remaining in the reserves and others completely transitioned from military service.  The incoming class of 2014 had an even larger veteran (and active duty) contingent, and the presence of veterans — both U.S. and international — at Fletcher helps add to the diversity of an already incredible student body.

From real-world experience and operational background in both training and combat, to advanced leadership and organizational skills, to past experience traveling the world and working with many cultures, the contributions that veterans make at Fletcher are invaluable, especially when combined with all the other incredible members of the Fletcher student body.

When I first arrived at Fletcher, I personally felt that nothing I had done in the military was all that special; all of my peers in the Army had effectively the same experiences and I did not feel I was unique.  Coming to Fletcher, I was amazed by how interested other students were in my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I was even more amazed to hear other students’ stories of their pre-Fletcher lives in various places and jobs around the world.  I have been blown away by the breadth of conversations and class discussions that will naturally flow when you combine veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace Corps Volunteers who worked in South Sudan, lawyers who worked for the UN, and medical doctors who worked in IDP camps.

Fletcher has a student veterans group, Fletcher Veterans.  The group meets regularly for both social events and also community service projects.  In recent years the group has gotten together for activities ranging from an annual trip to a polo match outside of Boston, to volunteering at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, to hosting student panels on the state of veterans in America.  This year, in conjunction with other groups at school, the group is looking to expand its presence at Fletcher into the realm of leadership development.  And Fletcher Vets also gets together from time to time for simple social gatherings to tell old war and sea stories over a few drinks.

For veterans or active duty members considering Fletcher, I think it’s important to note that you don’t have to focus on security studies; I would say the majority of veterans at Fletcher focus on other areas, including a very high concentration of MIB candidates.  The openness and diversity of Fletcher’s curriculum make it easy to combine your experience with an amazing breath of academic subjects on a variety of topics.  For those who are interested in security studies, the International Security Studies Program, chaired by Professor Shultz, is a great program and consistently brings in world-class speakers from around the world, as I described in a post last year.  The ISSP fellows — senior military officers attending Fletcher on a one-year fellowship, in lieu of the Army War College or their services’ respective professional military education — add a great deal to both the classroom and student body.  As senior field grade officers who have led operational units, they bring a wealth of knowledge to Fletcher and also serve as exceptional mentors for active duty officers and veterans alike.

Veterans contribute a great deal to the Fletcher community.  If you are a veteran interested in Fletcher and have questions regarding VA benefits, academics, student life, or pretty much anything, please contact me (Liam Walsh) or the co-leaders of Fletcher Veterans, Pat Devane and Joel Tolbirt.

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Diane and I first met when she visited Fletcher about two years ago, and I conducted her evaluative interview.  Since her arrival at Fletcher in September 2013, representing the country of Australia, she and I have worked on several different projects together.  Her first post for her second year describes the perspective she brings after having completed a year at Fletcher.  

Broinshtein Diane 2Throughout my summer abroad, during which I interned in Northern Ghana, traveled to South Africa, visited home (Australia) twice, and finally made it back to Boston, I had time to reflect on the whirlwind that was my first year at Fletcher.  The academic year is extremely busy; long days are filled with classes, group assignments, individual study, talks by special guests, club meetings, and jobs.  I decided that this year there were some lessons I could take from last year and implement into my schedule.

Knowing what to say “yes” and “no” to is the first big lesson.  A student’s time at Fletcher is filled with amazing opportunities; however, the volume of these opportunities can be overwhelming.  I have learned it’s important to have one or two areas on which to focus my attention outside of classes.  For me, I enjoy being part of admissions activities, because they so heavily influenced my decision to attend Fletcher, and I have been active with the Admissions Office throughout the year.  The other area I am focused on is my Research Assistant position with the Feinstein Center.  This role provides an opportunity to build skills in an area in which I want to work upon graduation.  Fletcher also has so many wonderful social events, that I enjoy attending, such as the amazing Los Fletcheros (Fletcher’s resident cover band), and the cultural nights.  And I chose to take 4.5 classes this semester, so my weekly schedule is fairly full just attending classes and keeping up with assignments.

Because the schedule at Fletcher is so busy, this year I have committed to taking at least one day off a week and getting outside.  Whether it is kayaking on the Charles River, visiting local towns, hiking, a quick trip to New York, or being a tourist in Boston, it’s important to take time to leave the library and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.  Fletcher, being located at Tufts University, also provides access to some excellent sports facilities; I personally enjoy going to the gym each morning, or playing squash with other students and staff from Fletcher.  Many students run with the Marathon team, or play tennis on the courts outside Fletcher, swim at the pool, or take advantage of the great facilities some other way.

One of the biggest decisions I made this year was to be more proactive in asking for help.  Asking for help at Fletcher is not difficult, whether it be booking a timeslot with the writing tutors, or seeing a professor during office hours.  The professors at Fletcher are extremely welcoming, and are keen to help students grasp the content they teach, happily taking time outside of the assigned office hours to sit with students and go over key concepts or help them understand an assignment.

These are just some of the lessons I learned last year and have implemented into my second year at Fletcher.  I am sure there will be many more lessons learned by the time graduation rolls around in May.

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With apologies for not revving up earlier in the semester, I’m happy to say that the Admissions Blog’s student writers are back in action.  We have three returning bloggers — Liam (MALD), Diane (MALD), and Mark (MIB).  Three first-year students — the “A Team” of Ali (MIB), Aditi (MALD), and Alex (MIB) — will soon be introducing themselves.

I’ve been fortunate that students frequently offer to write a post for the blog (as Aditi and Miranda did last week), and I sometimes give a new home to something they’ve written for a different medium (as I did with Colin’s Fletcher Fútbol report).  For the six bloggers who write over the continuum of the two years they spend at Fletcher, their posts should go beyond a single moment and leave readers with a sense of their evolution and breadth of interests over time.

Tomorrow, we’ll start by bringing back one of our returnees, Diane, who will talk about the perspective she brings to her second year.

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When she was already in Ghana for her summer internship, Diane sent me this final blog post of 2013-2014.  I held it, thinking that September would be optimal timing.  Current students may want to know about Diane’s search for external scholarships, while applicants may want to know that such a thing is possible.  New posts from continuing student bloggers Diane, Liam, and Mark should return soon, and I’ll be adding new voices from among the first-year students.

For prospective students applying to graduate programs, the question of how to pay for a master’s degree is often a huge part of the decision-making process.

While Fletcher was my number one choice in programs going into the application process, the scholarship aid I received from Fletcher also made my enrollment decision very easy.  Nonetheless, Fletcher scholarships don’t generally cover the full cost of tuition, and certainly don’t include living costs, leaving me to figure out how to cover the rest.

Like many students who worked for a number of years prior to Fletcher, I had some savings, and I knew I would also need to take a loan.  As I did my financial planning, I realized that my savings would be gone by the end of the first year, and I would have to try to find ways to minimize the amount of debt I would be taking on.  This led me to the search for external scholarships.

As I reviewed scholarship opportunities, I found myself in the unfortunate position of being an international student from a developed country, but a country that itself offers very few scholarships for international study.  This left me searching for scholarships that I often couldn’t apply for.  I wasn’t very successful with my applications before starting at Fletcher, and I planned to submit more applications for my second year of study.

Once I was at Fletcher, I found my greatest resource to be my fellow students.  I took the opportunity to chat with other international students about scholarships they knew of, and shared information.  I also utilized the resources around me — in particular, I took advantage of the writing tutor program, to get feedback on my application essays before I sent them in.

This turned out to be a positive process!  I applied for two external scholarships for my second year, and was successful in receiving one of them.  Two of my Fletcher friends who had shared with me the process of applying for external scholarships were also successful.  This highlights one of my favorite things about Fletcher: the spirit of collaboration, and how this often leads to shared success.

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At the end of the spring semester, Liam, one of our student bloggers, offered an end-of-year post.  I eagerly grabbed it, but I’ve held it until now because it reflects both Liam’s first year at Fletcher and also his suggestions for incoming students.  I’ll just note that Liam wrote his post when the Red Sox season was looking a little brighter than it is now!

Sitting here, finally having some time to reflect on the blur that is the spring semester, I’m at a loss to describe what an incredible experience my first year at Fletcher has been.  A few words come to mind — demanding, challenging, (extremely) busy — but what it really boils down to is one of the most remarkable and rewarding years I’ve had.  From making new friends, to learning an incredible amount about the world in which we live, to taking the time to really comprehend my life’s journey to this point, this year at Fletcher was incredible.  Taking all that into consideration, I thought about the experiences I’m glad I’ve had both in and out of school, and I wanted to share a few “musts” for students at Fletcher.

1.  Go to Fletcher events.  From culture nights, to the Blakeley Halloween party, to The Los Fletcheros concerts, to simple gatherings of friends on a Friday, some of the best times to be had at Fletcher are outside the classroom.  Taking the time to relax and get to know my classmates has been so incredibly rewarding.  Time goes by pretty fast here and it will be over before you know it, so enjoy it while you can.

2.  Go to the Boston Marathon.  I was blessed with the opportunity to run this year through the Tufts Marathon Team, but if running for four(-ish) hours is not your cup of tea, experiencing the event is still an absolute must.  Over a million fans lining the street for over 26 miles, coming together in support of the city and the runners, was just an indescribable thing to see.  The Boston Marathon is, in my eyes, the most egalitarian sporting event in the world and it is not to be missed.

3.  Go watch the Red Sox.  I might be a bit biased as a life-long Sox fan, but anyone who spends time in Boston should experience Fenway Park.  Especially after the Sox won the 2013 World Series, taking in an afternoon or evening at “America’s Favorite Ballpark” is a great distraction from school, and singing “Sweet Caroline” with 36,000 friends is pretty great, too.

4.  Get to know Boston.  Boston is so full of history and culture — it’s critical to get out and see it.  Running along the Esplanade on the Charles River, exploring the Freedom Trail, relaxing at Boston Common, going to concerts — there is so much to do year-round in the city, so putting down the books and getting out is something you just have to do.

5.  Get out of Boston.  New England offers a ton of things to do.  Whale watching off Cape Cod, skiing in Maine, hiking in New Hampshire, seeing the foliage in the fall, these are just a few of the awesome things this area of the country offers.  Taking a backpacking trip out in the Berkshires during spring break was probably the most relaxing thing I’ve done in the past year, and it was vital to helping me reset to finish the semester strong.

In summary, it’s been an incredible year — one I wouldn’t trade for the world — and I’m looking forward to a 2014-15 academic year that is just as incredible and memorable.

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The reason why the Fletcher staff is lonely all summer long is that our students are so successful in finding internships that meet their career objectives, with the result that they’re generally out of town.  Diane, our student blogger, tells us about her internship search, and shares a couple of photos from her summer post.

At Fletcher, the summer between the first and second years of the MALD or MIB program is open for students to use as they wish.  While internships are not required, students are encouraged to pursue one, and most do.  Others may prefer to use the time to develop their language skills, research or prepare their Capstone Project, or travel.

Ghana market Coming into Fletcher I knew the biggest gap on my résumé was my lack of field experience.  Therefore my goal for the summer revolved around going to a developing country to work.  I was hoping to find a research project that fit at least one of my interests: food security, mobile technology, or impact evaluations.

In January I began my search, reaching out to alumni at the DC Career Trip, speaking with second years about their experiences, and doing a lot of internet research.  My best resource became my professors, who were able to put me in touch with some of their contacts.  I sent a lot of emails, and got a few great leads; however, as the months went on, I still didn’t have an offer.

One organization that interested me and that I had identified early on was Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA).  Friends at Fletcher who had either previously worked or interned with IPA in the past informed me that the organization advertises internships quite late, so I kept an eye on the website, and applied while still continuing my search through my networks.

Right before exams I had a flurry of interviews for different opportunities, and on the day of my last exams, I received an offer to spend my summer in Tamale, Ghana with IPA.  As I had already planned to head home in a week, I packed my stuff the next day and flew to Australia where, in amongst catching up with family and friends, I organized my visa, booked flights, got immunizations and anti-malarial tablets, searched for a mosquito net, packed for some very warm weather, and got on a plane (or four planes, to be exact).

IPA designs and evaluates potential solutions to poverty using randomized evaluations and is based out of Yale University with offices across the world.  I am working on a project that involves offering rainfall insurance to farmers and I will be investigating whether this insurance can be made available through other organizations once the project is complete.  I am sure it is going to be a great summer, and look forward to returning to Fletcher in the fall to apply what I have learnt.

Ghana huts

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